Officials outline challenges, hopes for sustainability plan

A panel of top University administrators discussed challenges facing the University’s promise to become carbon neutral at an event Friday morning in the Marvin Center, but members said they remained hopeful they would be able to dramatically reduce emissions.

Meghan Chapple-Brown, director of Office of Sustainability, moderated a panel of four high-ranking University officials, and said that the event was the first step in creating the University’s Climate Action Plan – which University President Steven Knapp pledged to complete by May 2010. Knapp was required to make the plan after he signed the University Presidents’ Climate Commitment on Earth Day in 2008.

The group said it could sometimes be difficult to justify the high cost of purchasing new technologies that make the University more sustainable, as the energy reductions they create don’t save money immediately, but rather money accrues over a longer period of time.

“When ‘green’ saves money, it’s easy to justify, but in the end, the other investments result in real energy savings,” said Charles Spann, managing director of Information Systems and Services and one of the event’s panelists.

Adrienne Rulnick, associate vice president of development, alumni relations and annual giving, emphasized the efforts of her office to connect alumni whose business practices are in the field of sustainability or who are working to become more sustainable.

Because GW is in a city, Rulnick said, the University faces different challenges with sustainability than other colleges in less urban areas. She said universities in rural areas can erect new, environmentally friendly buildings all the time, whereas GW has tight space restrictions and zoning laws. But Rulnick added that GW’s sustainability challenges more accurately reflect the challenges that GW’s alumni face, making it a model for many graduates.

Executive Vice President and Treasurer Lou Katz said, however, that the opening of South Hall, GW’s first environmentally certified building, was a milestone for the urban Foggy Bottom campus. He added that the next step is working with older buildings on campus, where the sustainable implementations are more laborious.

“[The issue of sustainability] is something everyone can rally around,” Katz said. “Any time you have something everyone can rally around, you get a major synergy that you don’t usually get in everything else you try to accomplish.”

From an academic standpoint, the biggest issue is educating students to become civic scientists who can make a difference in the world, said Executive Vice President for Academic Affairs Donald Lehman.

Though making investments is difficult and may include increases in costs of operation, the panel said that the University will be able to justify all of its costs on a student-recruitment basis.

“For us to be the kind of institution students want to be at, overall, [sustainability] is something that they really look at. We clearly need to take this seriously,” Lehman said. “Students really believe in this.”

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